Monthly Archives: January 2012

Robyn – Robyn Is Here (1995)

Robyn is a strange subject. Her success in America begins and ends with Robyn Is Here, her international 1995 debut that didn’t see an American release until two years later. While it was a decent hit thanks to a couple of big top-ten singles, her next two records were inexplicably limited to European releases, diminishing her stateside success almost overnight. Despite maintaining a huge fanbase in Europe over subsequent years, Robyn would never have a hit record in America again.

But oh. Obviously that is not the whole story, is it. Does anybody even think of Robyn a two-hit wonder anymore? How many top-ten “Best Albums Of The Year” lists did Body Talk end up on in 2010? How many didn’t it??

For most of her American fans, Robyn came into existence fully-formed in 2008 with Robyn, a record that is more than one jump beyond Robyn Is Here. And who can blame them? 1999’s My Truth and 2002’s Don’t Stop The Music were entirely off the radar unless you were in Europe. Besides, Robyn and Body Talk were both so foot-up-the-butt out-of-nowhere great that every record she released before them almost felt moot – at least in the eyes of most critics.

You can’t blame people for forgetting about Robyn’s teen-star past. Or at least I can’t, because I didn’t know a fucking thing about it! What did I do when I found out that this hot shot critic’s favorite nobody could shut up about was the voice behind “Show Me Love,” my favorite song when I was 12 years old. I fucking bled internally until my toenails turned red. You know? I threw up on my desk and ate a dog, whole, snout to tail. It was a moment, for me. I changed.

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Hanson – Middle Of Nowhere (1997)

Hanson were not a boy band. They were not a bunch of formless white hunks hand-picked by a shady record executive and lumped together into a studio to record assembly-line radio songs written by Swedish men. Nevertheless, they were The Pop Band to open the door wide open in America for these boys; along with the Spice Girls, they’re regularly cited as a major player in the opening salvo of late-90s Teenpopalooza.

Which is funny, ’cause despite being a group of nice looking young men adept at playing poppy joy music, Hanson did not have much in common with their sweet teen brethren. I feel guilty pointing out the fact that they (mostly) wrote their own songs and played their own instruments – because at the end of the day, does it make a shit of a difference? – but yeah, they wrote their own songs and played their own instruments. They also had a pretty pronounced classicist pop bent – shiny 90s production aside, Hanson were modeled as a sort of Jackson 5 of the 90s, throwing in some late-60s sunshine pop and soul for good measure. They came across as a bunch of talented kids raised on their parents’ record collections trying to make ’em proud rather than a motley crew of faceless hunk bores.

Bottom line, Hanson were likeable kids who made fun music – which, when exposed to the mainstream public in 1997, went from instantly adored to reviled within the span of, what, a week?

Man did people hate on Hanson in the late 90s. Man! I know from experience, because I was one of those people. Even as a ten year old I did not understand why anybody would like this goofy dumb corn music. MMMwhat! What does that mean? It doesn’t mean anything!! I don’t get it!! Dumb!! Dumb!!!!

I mean, we can blame overexposure all we want – “MMMBop” was an inescapable earworm in 1997, and a backlash was inevitable I guess – but criticism of Hanson around this time ranged from unfairly dismissive to downright creepy and mean. For the former, you had people ragging on their music for being too sugary cute; for the latter, you had people saying they looked like girls.

Why? Because they have LONG HAIR! LONG BLONDE HAIR! THEY’RE BOYS?? B-B-BUT THEY LOOK LIKE GIRLS!!!!!!!!

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‘N Sync – Self Titled (1998)

On a fated summer’s afternoon in 1995, a fresh-faced 24-year-old Christopher Kirkpatrick met with boy band Svengali (and future jailbird) Lou Pearlman to exchange a few words about starting a pop group. Lou agreed to help little Chris out if he found some more vocalists on his own, and the plucky young man quickly enlisted the help of fellow popboy hopeful Joseph Fatone Jr.. After scouring through some audition tapes, the boys were compelled by a Mickey Mouse Club tape featuring the sweet freshface of one Justin Timberlake. The boys snagged Justin, Justin snagged fellow Clubber Joshua Scott Chasez, and then they all snagged some guy nobody cares about before he realized he was in a boy band and left and was replaced by one James Lance Bass. Inspired by a comment from Justin’s mom about how well their voices meshed together, the group (or Lou, maybe, probably) dubbed themselves “‘N Sync,” and the rest – as they say – is history.

Or – well, no! No. No it isn’t. Oh goodness I’m sorry.

The real story here is that ‘N Sync (or *NSYNC or NSync or however else you want to write it out) were conceived as another cookie-cutter late 90s Boy Band marketed in the United States as the primary competition to the Backstreet Boys. “In the United States” is the important part there – both groups were actually formed around the same time in the mid-90s and broke into Europe around that time as well – but because the Backstreets hit it big in America first, ‘N Sync were largely viewed as Johnny-come-latelys when their self-titled debut record was released in 1998. The first in a long line of Pearlman-coached assembly-line prettyboys designed to hustle the allowance money of suburban 11-year-old girls across the globe.

Was this a fair assumption?? Well, uh, yeah. Sure.

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Backstreet Boys – Self Titled (1997)

I don’t know if there are any good teen pop records.

I don’t even know what that means, or if it even matters. I don’t know how to apply “good” here. For me a “good” album has always meant an album with good songs from beginning to end. The Beatles Stones Radioheads et cetera. Pop music primarily marketed to teenagers, by its very nature, does not work well in this framework. Because who cares about teenagers? Singles plus filler. Sometimes only filler. That is the name of the game.

This is a problem for me because I love pop music for teenagers. I love it in all of is test-marketed, overproduced hot-hunky-boy glory. I love songs with five swarthy buddies in white jackets singing in sweet harmonies. I love pointless Irish Spice Girls knockoffs that nobody asked for. I love poorly choreographed dance routines, awkwardly oversexed lyrics and Chris Kirkpatrick’s dreadlocks. I love it all and I want to live it all, all the time.

I can frame this blog as an attempt to analyse and understand records viewed by most as tawdry, promotional throwaways, to see if there are any great records in the murk. This is not a lie. But the real truth is that this blog is my excuse to devour every teen pop record I can get my hands on, to fully ensconce myself in this world of tanny hunks and smoochy ladies until I can’t escape, until I lose contact with every friend I have and feel good about it, proud. Until I drown like a dog and die in teenager pop. Maybe in the end it won’t even be worth it. But why would I care.

Why would I care.

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